They say that forty is the new thirty, but quite frankly, when you’ve had two children and a decade too many Lindt Balls, I don’t somehow think so. Certainly there is no way I could fit into the skin tight jeans I wore back in the days. And I am definitely a lot more saggy and soft around the edges. Important things have drooped and only surgery will fix them. And it is not just a decade too much overeating that has left my behind a lot wider than I would like. In your forties, it seems, your body changes shape. Of course there are wrinkles to get used to, but what about that wobbly bit under the chin, the sagging neckline. That came as a surprise. Looking in the mirror requires a great deal more courage these days. But there are other things too – like waistlines and knuckles and feet. Yes, seriously, my feet are changing shape. Well, one foot is. It’s got a knobbly bit now that is new to both it and me. A bunion. Not unusual, it would seem from a cursory look around at all the bare feet in my Pilates class.
It’s not that I am unhappy being forty. (Well, forty one, in the interests of honesty). Ah, contraire mon ami! There is much to enjoy in this decade of life. Like it seems to me, for the first time ever, the possibility of wisdom may be more imminently in my grasp. And I’ve reached the age when I’ve stopped caring too much about what strangers think, and feel more confident in the love of my friends who, it turns out love me just as I am (and it has taken me literally four decades to understand that, so it is a biggie). I love the fact that it is perfectly respectable to climb into bed at ten o’clock with a good book, even on a Saturday night. And to prefer wine to cocktails, and to be able to afford real champagne instead of pretend bubbles. I like the fact that you know what looks good on you and you don’t have to fuss about squeezing into the latest fashions (which have never interested me, anyway) and you can get away with flat shoes almost always. I like the store of memories I’ve got too, that only come from having gotten older. I like the fact that I am filled with experiences and stories and can think about things beyond the constraints of my upbringing.
But, the thing is, forty really is breasting that hill, isn’t it. I mean, if the average life expectancy is around 80, well, this is middle age then and it won’t be long before we’re coasting down the hill towards actually being old and then, dead. The prospect of death, once just a far off possibility barely given a thought, lurks closer. It casts its shadow and, I’ll be frank, it sends shivers up my spine. People you know die at this age from things you might just get. Especially for women this decade seems a pretty deadly one. There are all sorts of lurking diseases that can afflict you at this time. That’s why you have to pay higher insurance premiums than your husband. But, hey, on the upside, if you get to fifty, as a women, you are pretty set.
So, really, this unsettled feeling I have about being in my forties is not about getting old. Getting old is the aim – bring on old age, I say, after all it is preferable to the alternative. No, it’s that little seed of fear that maybe I won’t get old that being forty seems to bring with it. I’ve always had a touch of hypochondria, but being forty-some has most certainly made it worse. Maybe it is just me (it’s probably just me!) but every ache and pain, newly discovered freckle or bump, comes with an attendant “is this going to kill me?” And that level of anxiety is wearying, isn’t it? It’s bound to age one earlier than necessary. Let’s hope that much anticipated wisdom arrives soon, and with it an acceptance that life is what it is and anxiety won’t make an iota of difference except to ruin a perfectly good today!